Super 8, a visual spectacle from both J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, belongs in the same category as Spielberg’s sci-fi classics.
Now on 4K Ultra HD for the tenth anniversary, the film has never looked better. I still remember the first time that I saw the film on the big screen in 2011. Lo and behold, ten years later, it is just as thrilling. There are certainly a few things here and there that didn’t age well but other than that, it’s so beautiful. After all, J.J. Abrams is directing what is basically a 1980s movie. And he’s doing so with none other than the legendary Steven Spielberg on board as a producer. With these two behind the camera, you know that the film can do no wrong. But beyond that, you can’t help but think about films like E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Goonies, and Stand by Me. Well, if those films were darker in content, of course.
While bringing nostalgia on one level, the film knows not to show too much too soon. That’s the heart of the mystery of Super 8. Why did the train crash and why is the U.S. Air Force so interested in the wreckage? Why is Dr. Thomas Woodward (Glynn Turman) present at the crash scene? These are some of the questions that we hope get answered in due time while watching the film. When you have two visionary filmmakers behind the camera, it’s no surprise that the film is about a group of kids making a film. J.J. Abrams might be the director/screenwriter but you can’t tell me that Steven Spielberg wouldn’t have made a similar film in the 1980s if the opportunity presented itself!
We find ourselves in Lillian, Ohio in 1979 during the film’s opening prologue. Deputy Sheriff Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and son Joe (Joel Courtney) are mourning the death of wife/mother Elizabeth. She’s dead as a result of a workplace accident while covering Louis Dainard’s (Ron Eldard) shift. Suffice it to say, Jack is no fan of Louis.
Four months later, Joe Lamb is working on a film with Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee), and much to his father’s dismay, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). There’s some animosity between the two at first but in time, they become close friends. Anyway, they’re heading out to a train depot at midnight and while rehearsing, a train passes by and next thing you know, it’s a site for explosive fireworks with everyone running for their lives. We don’t know what exactly was on the train but it’s enough to bring Col. Nelec (Noah Emmerich) and an Air Force convoy to town. This is where I stop rehashing the plot because of the mystery at hand.
As far as the big screen goes, this is the first chance by Abrams at directing something that isn’t part of a franchise. His first two feature directing jobs were for previously established franchises. Super 8 may be an original film but Abrams also plays on the classic Spielberg tropes including having broken families up front and center. Spielberg is a producer so Abrams is forgiven on all accounts.
Watching the film brought so much nostalgia in June 2011 that I ended up on a Spielberg binge. The other thing it did was finally get me to watch a little known ABC series called Lost. But this is beside the point. What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that this film brings back so much nostalgia. I may have been too young for Super 8 cameras themselves but anyone born in the 1980s grew up with the Spielberg movies. Okay, so I was scared of E.T. and held off for a number of years! One can certainly see Abrams making a love letter to an era of filmmaking that wasn’t so dependent on visual effects. Visual effects may be playing a role in Super 8 but at the end of the day, the story is the heart and soul of the film.
The film made it to the Oscar nomination short lists for both Visual Effects and Original Score. While both would have been well-deserved nominations, they fell short of getting a nomination. Beyond the accolades, the film also served as Joel Courtney’s big break long before audiences saw him in The Kissing Booth franchise. Elle Fanning also delivered a solid performance. Among the child actors, the two were the film’s standout performers.
Ten years after its release, Super 8 remains thrilling and the film of yesteryear holds up beautifully well.
- Commentary by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Larry Fong
- The Dream Behind Super 8 (HD)
- The Search for New Faces (HD)
- Meet Joel Courtney (HD)
- Rediscovering Steel Town (HD)
- The Visitor Lives (HD)
- Scoring Super 8 (HD)
- Do You Believe in Magic? (HD)
- The 8mm Revolution (HD)
- Easter Eggs (HD)
- Deconstructing the Train Crash (HD)
- 14 Deleted Scenes (HD)
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: J.J. Abrams
CAST: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills